Mexican food is ideal for a casual dinner party with friends – easy to prepare, full of flavour and looks good. So go on … give it a go.
Mexican food is some of the best loved regional food in the world – and for good reason. It’s sociable – with its spicy flavours lending itself to having a few drinks. When done well it’s delicious, and when prepared properly it can be healthy and nutritious. Locally, we’re not spoilt for choice when it comes to Mexican restaurants, but that shouldn’t stop us from enjoying it at home.
I’m going to share with you a few core recipes for throwing together a Mexican meal – then simply experiment as you go along.
Mexico has fantastic native ingredients – tomatoes, chilli peppers, avocado, corn, beans and cocoa – which many of the basic dishes revolve around. Much of the refinement of the cuisine is due to the Spanish conquest of the Aztec nation, and today Mexican food as we know it is a blend of Aztec and Hispanic influence.
Avos are native to Mexico and are widely used in their diets. The world has embraced guacamole and there are as many recipes as there are Mexican chefs. But I’m going to share mine with you – so give it a try and then tweak to suit yourself. I’m going to use one large avo as the base, and you can adjust the quantity as needed.
Choose an avo that’s not over ripe, as you want it to stay quite chunky. Chop the avo into cubes the size of a dice, and pop into a mixing bowl. Finely chop a handful of fresh coriander leaves and add to the bowl. Toast a teaspoon of cumin seeds in a pan until the aroma is released, then add to the bowl. Roll two limes until they soften, cut in half and squeeze the juice into the bowl (minus the pips). Add a good glug of olive oil, a pinch of salt and some ground black pepper. Mix with a fork to combine. The avo should still be quite chunky. The lime juice will stop the avo from turning brown, so can be kept in the fridge for a day.
The end result? Guacamole with a zing – the lime juice cuts through the creaminess of the avo, while the earthiness of the cumin keeps it savoury.
Refried beans are normally cooked beans which have been puréed and refried with added ingredients. I’m not a huge fan of the consistency and prefer a more rustic version. Try this.
Rinse and drain the contents of 2 tins of cannellini or kidney beans. With a mallet gently crush until they are roughly broken. Set aside.
In a skillet fry the following over a medium heat with a good glug of olive oil – 1 bunch of chopped coriander stalks (leaves removed and set aside); 2 large cloves of garlic, sliced; 1 whole red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped; ½ a red onion, finely diced; and 1 red pepper, diced. Cook until the onion and pepper are soft but not brown. As they turn sweet add the beans and gently fry for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste and fold in the coriander leaves before serving.
The list of Mexican breads and chips with which to enjoy these amazing dips and salsas is endless. I love soft tacos as you can pile a load of things on to them, fold them up and shovel them into your mouth. Make them at home – they’re not difficult.
In a large bowl place 500g of flour and a pinch of salt. Gradually add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 150ml of cold water, stirring continuously until the mixture comes together to form a rough dough. Transfer to a flour-dusted surface and knead for about 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Shape into a long sausage shape. Slice the dough into 16 equal-sized pieces, roll into balls. On a flour-dusted surface, roll the dough balls into circles, roughly the thickness of a playing card. Preheat a large non-stick frying pan over a high heat, add the tortillas (you’ll need to do this in batches) and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until lightly golden on both sides. Place between foil to keep them warm.
Corn on the cob is so good, and a big favourite of mine. Boil three cobs in some salted water until the corn is tender. Cool slightly. Stand upright, and with a sharp knife slice from top to bottom removing the corn from the cob. Place in a mixing bowl. Add 4 finely chopped jalapenos; half a red onion, finely diced; 2 ripe medium-size tomatoes, seeds removed and finely diced; I large green chilli, deseed and finely sliced. Add a glug of good olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and serve. This salsa is even better if the corn has been charred on an open flame once cooked.
Dice 2 onions, 1 red pepper, 3 cloves of garlic, 2 stems of celery including leaves, 2 carrots. Simmer in a large casserole dish over a medium heat until soft. Add a teaspoon each of chilli powder, cinnamon and ground cumin (jeera). Cook for 2 minutes. Add 2 tins of chopped tomatoes and 1 tin of drained and rinsed kidney beans. Chop the stems off a bunch of coriander, finely chop the stems and add to the dish. Keep the leaves for garnishing. Add 500g of lean beef mince with 2 cups of water, stir well and season. Pop the lid on loosely and cook for about 70 minutes. Allow to cool before checking the seasoning. Serve garnished with coriander leaves.Tags: Food & Wine, Food with Paul